Water Quality

chem_spill corral_polluted





As the owner of a small acreage, water is important to many of your activities. If you have a private well, then you may use groundwater for drinking and other household needs, for watering your animals or irrigating your land. If you have water rights for surface water, then you are able to irrigate your pastures, gardens or lawn. If your land has running water, ponds or wetlands, you may use this water for your animals, for fishing and other recreation, or just for the aesthetic pleasures that water can bring. With these benefits comes the responsibility to protect the quality of this water. Protecting water quality not only benefits you and your family by preserving healthy drinking water and a healthy environment, but it also protects those water users downstream. For some simple tips on how you can be part of the solution to pollution click here.

Answer the following questions to help you identify activities on your property that may be putting groundwater or surface water at risk. If you answer “Yes” or “Don’t Know” to any of the questions, water from your property could potentially threaten your family’s health, the value of your property or the health of people downstream. To find out more, please see the fact sheets and surveys, or contact your local extension office.  

Section I. How Safe is Your Well?

If your drinking water comes from a public water supply, go to Section II.

  1. Do you have a well less than 50 feet deep?
  2. Do you have a dug well or driven well (rather than a drilled well), or is your well more than 50 years old?
  3. Does your well casing extend less than 12 inches above ground level or can you see any cracks or holes in your well casing?
  4. Are there any potential sources of contamination uphill from your well (i.e., confined or grazing animals, fertilizer or pesticide storage areas)?
  5. Are there any abandoned wells on your property that have not been properly sealed?


What's the Risk to Your Well Water?

Fact sheet:

How to Protect Your Well Water

Additional well information:

Wells that aren't used for drinking water:

If you have a well that is no longer being used, you should consider closing the well to avoid any contamination of groundwater. Well closing recommendations include:

  • Remove pump, piping and any other obstructions from the well.
  • Close the entire length of unused wells with approved materials such as a slurry of neat cement or bentonite clay.
  • The well should be chlorinated before it is sealed. The entire length of the well should then be sealed to prevent surface water from entering the groundwater, and to prevent contamination movement from one aquifer to another.
Wells which are used for irrigation or animal watering only still need need to be protected, because contamination that enters may pollute a neighboring well.

Section II. Risks from Pesticides and Fertilizers

If you do not store or handle pesticides and/or fertilizer, go to Section III.

  1. Do you mix, apply, or store pesticides or fertilizers within 100 feet of any water supply system, stream or lake? 
  2. Do you do any of the following?
    • Fill your sprayer tank with a hose that does not have an anti-backflow device.
    • Put the hose in the tank so that it is below the waterline during filling.
    • Leave the sprayer tank unattended while filling.
    • Rinse your sprayer tank near your water supply.



What's the Risk to Your Water from Fertilizer Contamination?

What's the Risk to Your Water from Pesticide Contamination?

Fact sheets:

How to Protect Your Water from Fertilizer Contamination

How to Protect Your Water from Pesticide Contamination

Fertilizers as common pollutants of concern:

Proper storage, handling and application of fertilizers on farmstead or acreages are essential to protect water sources from chemical contamination. Excessive application rates, spills in storage areas, and seemingly insignificant spills during mixing and loading can lead to fertilizer movement into surface or groundwaters. If contamination reaches drinking water sources, nitrates in the fertilizer can pose serious health risks--especially for infants and young livestock. In addition to health concerns, laws governing nutrients in surface water are being more strictly enforced than in the past, in part because fertilizer runoff into surface water can cause excess algae growth and result in fish kills.

Pesticides as potential pollutants:
When handling and storing pesticides on your farmstead or acreage, you should always have a strategy to prevent contamination of water resources. Accidental pesticide spills around wells can, and do, lead to contamination of groundwater, which can affect your and your neighbor’s wells. Contaminated surface runoff creates a threat to streams and lakes, and pesticide contamination can make the sale or transfer of land difficult. Managing your pesticides to reduce risk of water contamination does not require a major investment of money or time. It does, however, require responsibility and the will to take action. Taking precautions with your pesticides is considered the best action to reduce risk of water contamination.

Section III. Risks from Fuels

If you do not store or handle petroleum, go to Section IV.

  1. Are there underground fuel storage tanks on your farm or acreage?
  2. Are any of your above ground or underground fuel storage tanks located near a water well or surface water body?
  3. Are there signs of spills or leaks around any fuel tanks?
  4. Do you have any fuel tanks that are not located on a containment structure or spill pad?


What's the Risk to Your Water from Petroleum Based Fuel?

Fact sheet:

How to Protect Your Water from Spilled Fuel

Petroleum products as potential water pollutants:

Fuel spills and leaks pose a serious threat to human health and environmental quality. One gallon of gasoline can contaminate up to 1 million gallons of water. Cleanup of fuel-contaminated soil and water can be extremely expensive. It is best to take precautions to ensure that spills or leaks do not occur.

Section IV. Risks from Hazardous Wastes

  1. Do you use products without following the directions on the “warning “or “caution” labels?
  2. Do you ever pour hazardous substances such as antifreeze, oil, paints, stains, polishes or solvents down a sink drain or storm drain, in a ditch, or on the ground?
  3. Do you burn plastics, batteries, chemicals, treated lumber, or other hazardous items?
  4. Have you disposed of hazardous waste in an area other than a designated disposal facility?


What's the Risk to Your Water from Hazardous Waste?

Fact sheet:

How to Protect Your Water from Hazardous Waste

Home chemicals and hazardous wastes can pose potential risks to the quality of your water:

Waste products are an inevitable result of daily living. While some types of waste are harmless, a significant number are potentially hazardous to our health and the environment. Waste products are hazardous if they are toxic, corrosive, flammable or explosive. The federal government identifies over 500 specific materials as hazardous wastes. Even a small amount of these materials can contaminate ground or surface water and can be very difficult to clean up.

Below are some common hazardous materials found around the home and farmstead or acreage.

  • solvents, spot removers and dry cleaning fluids
  • pesticides
  • oil and lead based paint, turpentine, stains, finishes, paint strippers and wood preservatives
  • tires and car batteries, used oil filters
  • household cleaners
  • ash from burned trash and sludge from burned waste oil
  • gasoline, antifreeze and used motor oil
  • flea powder and veterinary waste
  • photography chemicals
  • asbestos

Section V. How Safe is Your Septic System?

If your household is on a public sewer, go to Section VI.

  1. Is your septic system less than 100 feet from your well or surface water?
  2. Has it been longer than three years since you had your septic tank inspected or cleaned out?
  3. Do you pour grease, oil, or leftover household chemicals down your
  4. Do you ever see evidence of standing or “smelly” water that may have come from your septic system?

Fact sheet:

How to Manage Your Septic System and Protect Your Water

Septic Systems

Section VI. Managing Livestock

If you do not have livestock, skip to the end.

  1. Does runoff from your barnyard or manure collection area flow into streams or
    other surface water?
  2. During rain events, is runoff from your roof or yard allowed to come in contact with the manure?
  3. Are your manure storage areas located less than 100 feet or uphill from your well or surface waters?



What's the Risk to Your Water from Stored Manure?

What's the Risk to Your Water from a Livestock Yard?

Fact sheets:

How to Manage Stored Manure and Protect Your Water

How to Manage Your Livestock and Protect Your Water

Additional Livestock Manure Information:

Manure and Nutrient Quantity Calculation Sheet

National Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center


Fact Sheets

Risks to Your Well Water How to Protect Your Well Water
Handling and Storing Pesticides Handling and Storing Pesticides
Handling, Storing, and Applying Fertilizers Handling, Storing, and Applying Fertilizers
Handling and Storing Fuels Handling and Storing Fuels
Hazardous Waste Hazardous Waste
Septic Systems Septic Systems
Storing and Handling Livestock Manure Storing and Handling Livestock Manure
Managing Livestock Yards Managing Livestock Yards

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